Be the Light

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Dominic
19th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

II Timothy 4:3-4

These are the readings for the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Dominic as assigned by the Order of Preachers in their liturgy. There’s another set of optional readings for the Memorial of St Dominic in the Roman Missal. In most places today’s readings will be those of the 19th Monday in the C2 cycle.

ST PAUL’s teaching to St Timothy could have been written yesterday. Hardly a day goes by on Catholic Social Mediae when some Self-Proclaimed Teacher doesn’t say something to lure the masses to their doom. That teacher could be trying to marshal up some anger in a political ploy or swirl a vortex of hate around the Pope. He could be offering some Option to escape all this or be offering some liberal mainline pablum to absolve everyone of sins that are politically incorrect to call out. Or any one of these could be unmasked as a hypocrite driving their own ambitions rather than the salvation of souls. Yet St Paul’s words prove this problem is 20 centuries long. More, scripture will show us the Church has been dealing with “prophets” like this all the way back to the Sons of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The Church is always splitting into Camps and there’s aways someone willing to listen.

At the time of St Dominic it was the Church’s pride that was causing the split. Another thing that might sound very modern: wealthy cleargy living immoral lives were causing a scandal and driving people out of the Ark of Salvation into the arms of heretics. Think of how many people left the Church over the sexual abuse scandal or Cardinal McCarrick. Think of those scandalaized by politicians not living the faith or those who use the Church as a way to curry votes.

Dominic knew the answer was to double-down on the orthodox faith and the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He knew that actually living the faith in its fullness was the only way to draw people back to the Church. To make the faith attractive one needed to live it – thereby proving it was livable – and to live it with joy.

The secret is in the Gospel reading today. In John 8:12 Jesus says he is the light of the world. However today, in Matthew 5:14, he says his followers – we- are the light of the world. These are not contradictory sentences for, in our baptism, we are members of him. As he is light of light, we are, if you will, light of light of light. We are sons of the Father in the Son of God. Our function is to be light here, wherever here happens to be. As lay folks we can be light in our jobs, in our families, in the subway, in the bodega, in the bars, at the disco, even in internet chat rooms. We are called to be the light. Dominic knew his sons and daughters, in order to be the light, would need to live the Gospel fully.

What would it take to be light where you are? How can the Gospel be lived more fully in your life? I don’t know these answers – only you do. In my own life it’sbeen a gradual awakening to the promptings of the Spirit. When I wrote – nearly 20 years ago now – “What if everything I think I know about myself is wrong?” I didn’t know what the answer would look like. It’s possible you don’t know either.

But be light.

And you will see the way.

Keep Watch

JMJ

The Readings for the 19th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

That night [The Passover] was known beforehand to our ancestors, so that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.

Wisdom 18:6

IT’S INTERESTING TO READ THIS passage from Wisdom together with the call to faith (in Hebrews) and Our Lord’s command to “be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” It’s the contrast that makes it interesting: the followers of the Son of Man do not know when he will return. But we must act anyway. None of the folks listed in the “By Faith” passage of Hebrews knew. But they were called to act anyway. “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” The Israelites, however, before the Passover, were told to pick an unblemished lamb from their flocks on the tenth of the month and, four days later, their redemption would be accomplished. “It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” (Exodus 12:11b-12). The Israelites, says Solomon in the book of Wisdom, were thus given courage. They could put their faith in this unseen promise of God.

Why does Holy Mother Church call this to our mind today – these unseen things together with this one seen thing?

Perhaps, in her wisdom, she knows that we grow weary in our watch. The first lesson calls us to see that Ancient Israel only needed to wait four days. The second lesson reminds us of all our forebears who died without ever receiving the promise and yet they went gladly forward in faith. Yet we can – from our vantage point – see that their faith was not in vain: for the promises made to them have been fulfilled in the Messiah.

So we, too, might be strengthened in our watch by being thus reminded and so encouraged in our life – and death – even if we do not see the promises made to us yet come to fulfillment.

When I was in High School there was a promise made by some radio preacher guy that Jesus was coming back in April of 1980. I thought my foster mother was a bit wonky for believing this guy (for no one knows the day or the hour) but the closer we got to the date in April of that year the more insistent she got that he was right. I was surprised to find how many of my fellow students also knew of this preacher guy. As much as the Teenage Me couldn’t be bothered to show an adult that I actually cared about such things, I let her hug me before I left for school that morning. She was convinced we’d be seeing Jesus before I got home.

I had a Math Test at about 3PM that day.

And just in the middle of the test.

A trumpet blew.

My breath caught.

A trumpet was sounding from rom a car in the parking lot.

My friend, Linda, and I looked at each other across our papers and then the moment passed. She silently shook and we finished the test.

I’ve often tried to imagine what it would be like to live in that tension every day. What would matter to me and what would not matter at all? My Foster Mother still made breakfast and coffee that Tuesday. She sent me to school with lunch money. The clothes were cleaned and supper was ready that night just as expected.

We see all the other promises of God fulfilled save this one. How can we manage not to live as if this may happen at any moment? How can we let ourselves fall into sin mindful that at any moment we could die and be called to judgement? How dare we turn the eyes of our soul from our internal contemplation of the Father for even a moment, knowing that that may be the moment of Parousia, and we will not be ready?

St John Chrysostom included in his Eucharistic Prayer (called the Anaphora) thanksgiving for “the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the second and glorious coming again.” In the Eucharist, all of time collapses together from both ends of eternity to here. There is only one eternal Sacrifice offered by the Son to the Father. At every Mass, we stand in that one offering at the end of time before the Father where the Messiah is all in all and the Kingdom is handed over to the Father. It happens at every Mass so how much more should we not be ready always?

Pay attention.

Be ready.

A trumpet blows.

Crucifiguration

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
(18th Saturday, Tempus per Annum C2)

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Matthew 16:24

BY A STRANGE COINCIDENCE of calendars today’s Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord (on the Gregorian Calendar) is falling on the Hebrew date of the Ninth Day of the month of Av. (This year, since the 9th is a Sabbath, the commemoration is moved to the 10th day of the month.) The 9th Day of the Month of Av is the date on which the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Bablonians. And it was the day on which the Romans destroyed the second temple. A number of other sad events are commemorated on this day, making it a day of fasting and mourning. Since mourning is forbidden on the Sabbath, this year’s “Ninth” is actually on the Tenth, as noted above. The coincidence of the 9th of Av and the 6th of August strikes me as one worthy of meditation for a number of reasons.

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, with the follow-up bombing of Nagasaki tomorrow. That’s a transfiguration and destruction of a sort engineered by man. I no longer believe the “number of lives saved vrs number of lives lost” arithmetic that is used to justify the bombings: we can never know what would have been. We can only know the evil that happened, among which was the raising of two whole generations in perpetual fear of nuclear war. That’s the power of the nuclear deterrent.

Another level of meditation is found in the time Jesus said “if you tear down the temple I will raise it up in three days.” As the Gospel adds, “he was speaking of the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Building on that level we are all part of the Body of Messiah (I Corinthians 12:27), each believer is a part of the Temple he raised up. And each one of us has a body that is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).

There is a tradition in Judaism of reading a passage from Isaiah on this Shabbat (before the Fast) that describes what is called “The Third Temple”. This is interesting to me because some protestants view any “third temple” as an act prefiguring their literal reading of the Book of Revelation, so the Tish B’Av has in it some future apocalypse overlap as well. Although the major break between Jews who followed Yeshua and Jews who did not do so would not come until the 13os (when Bar Kochba was given Messianic titles) somehow the destruction of Jerusalem refocused the Church almost entirely on the Parousia: we have no earthly home anywhere.

There’s a mosaic in Ravenna, Italy. Floating over a grassy field filled with sheep, safely grazing, a cross is surrounded by a field of stars and radiant light. It’s indicated (pointed to) by radiant beings. There are trees. It’s beautiful and nothing like a Crucifix as we might see in a Church today. (When a Crucifix was first presented – in a Greek Church – the Latin Bishop thought it might be scandalous.) In the center of the cross there’s the Face of the Crucified, shining in glory. It is, as I mentioned yesterday, an image of the Cross as the glory of the Messiah.

Now, look again. On either side of the floating Cross are symbols of the Torah and the Prophets, Moses to the left and Elijah to the right. There are three sheep, Peter, James, and John. And a hand comes from heaven. This is the Transfiguration depicted as a Crucifixion.

See?

The Apostles who had seen the Transfiguration ran away at the Crucifixion even though the latter was intended to be a comfort to them during the former. If he is God, as he is in the Transfiguration, then all things point to him even the darkest time of his Crucifixion. In fact, the latter, more than the former, is his glorification. Yet, they still ran away.

The meditation arises that things that are good might be seen as bad, and things that are bad might be seen as good. And, furthermore, what we think of as bad and good might not be, really, those things. God’s ways might be as far above us as we can imagine and then more.

Of course, none of this will apply next year, when the calendars do not overlap in the same way. (Next year the Fast is in July.) But this year, seeing Christ Glorified in the Darkness, we must ask:

When things get dark how can we refrain from running away before the light breaks through?

The Burning Bush

JMJ

MOSES’ VISION OF THE BURNING BUSH is read as a typological prefigurement of the Incarnation. God enters the womb of the Most Holy Theotokos without damage or corruption just as the bush was burned yet was not consumed. This, along with reading through Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, and today’s feast of the Transfiguration, all joined together into a meditation. It is not a complete meditation, it’s open for you to follow in many directions.

All of history can be read as a typological echo from the Burning Bush, or, more to the point, the Burning Bush is the earliest shockwave of this cosmic chain. Walk with me through this process. It’s rather like a tree of life actually. I mean that in the kabbalistic sense.

The Burning Bush pairs well with the Incarnation itself. As I mentioned Mary echoes this in that she is not harmed or corrupted by the Incarnation happening in her womb. But the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the bush in the story of Moses. The next time we see the Heavenly Fire is as the Pillar of Fire that defends the Israelites. Next, we see it on the face of Moses himself as he comes from the presence of God with the divinely-inscribed tablets. We finally see it as the Shekinah Glory hovering over the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Likewise, the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. We see it again at the Transfiguration and again at the Cross. We see it at Pentecost and we see it in the Eucharist.

As the fiery pillar was a manifestation of the presence of God for the purpose of defending the Israelites or directing them, so too the Transfiguration was for the express purpose of defending the Apostles from the shame of the Cross and directing them to the heavenly vision.

As the Heavenly Fire was seen on Moses face departing so too Jesus breathed his Spirit forth from the cross and the fire fled into all the world. As Moses at Pentecost handed down the divine fire to the Israelites so Jesus at Pentecost handed the divine fire of the Holy Spirit to our hearts in the Church. And as the Shekinah came to rest in the Temple hovering over The Mercy Seat, the Eucharist by the Holy Spirit has come to rest in our churches, hovering over the altar.

And so from Moses at the bush, to the people of Israel, through the Blessed Virgin, from the Cross, through the Holy Spirit to the Church, and to you comes the divine fire of transfiguration. The shockwaves do not stop there, though. As the bush was burned yet not consumed, as the tablets were inscribed, as the Temple was filled with the glory that cannot be contained in all of the Universe – and so also as the womb of the Most Holy was made more spacious than the heavens; as Jesus was Transfigured revealing the glory of God enrobed in human flesh, so you, if you will let it, can house the holy fire and let it shine through you. This is the Shockwave of the Eschaton echoing through history and you: God’s fire bursting in and through us. The everlasting flames of God’s all-consuming love stand ready to receive us if we will but let him have us.

Jesus in the Sky with Prophets

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Non enim doctas fabulas secuto notam fecimus vobis Domini nostri Jesu Christi virtutem et praesentiam : sed speculatores facti illius magnitudinis… Et hanc vocem nos audivimus de caelo allatam, cum essemus cum ipso in monte sancto.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

A question comes up every year around Easter: how can we know? Where is the proof?

Truth be told we take a lot of folks at their word, over and over. We never ask for more proof than their spoken word, even when it’s obvious (to anyone paying attention) that some story or other is clearly fabricated. There are whole websites devoted to disproving fabrications and there are, equally, whole websites devoted to dispensing fabrications. Yet, not to put too fine a point on it, none of these websites ask their owners (or even their readers) to pay the price of their truth with their very lives.

We live in an age when religious martyrdom has been given a bad rap. Only insane folks die for their version of religious truths. Sane religious folks are to be differentiated from the nuts that fly planes into buildings or park trucks in front of government offices. Lunatics kill themselves to make a point. Regular folks live and let live and don’t bother with messy things like doctrines. That’s not, actually, what martyrdom means. Killing oneself or oneself and a whole lot of others, is not what makes a martyr.

Being slain for or because of one’s faith does, however.

So it would be possible to look around the globe today and find folks of several religions who are killed exactly because of their religions or, in the line of duty described by their religions. A Jew slain in their Synagogue, a Native American defending tribal sacred grounds, a Christian killed while she was praying at a shrine. These are all martyrs. The Royal Martyrs of Russia are of this sort, as are very many slain by the Communists. The right wing militias supported by the US have given us a lot of these as well, especially in Latin America. President Reagan deserves the title of “Martyr Maker”.

There are also martyrs of a sort very commonly understood: people who are ordered to recant their faith and do not – and so are slain. Communists, Fascists and other forms of paganism have given many faiths – including Christianity – a lot of these. Likewise the English have given the church a lot of these. Queen Elizabeth I deserves the title of “Martyr Maker” as well.

St Peter – and the other witnesses to the life of Jesus – are, in fact, martyrs of a different sort. Their witness, their confession lies at the root of all the others. These 11 men (and 400 or so others) insisted that what they had seen had actually happened. And not one of them recanted even though every last one save John, could have purchased their very lives by that recantation. 

We have seen this. St John adds, “We have handled this with our hands”.

Yet today it is popular to deny the authority of the witnesses.
To say the tales are fabricated.
To insist that the stories must have been written down long after the reported events.
To demand any number of options that make it easy for the stories to be untrue.

It’s not enough to say St Paul didn’t write his letters, we have to image St Titus was a lie as well, or St Timothy. The whole thing is made up.

Well, OK. 

The theory that Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and fed to garbage dogs (forgive me) and that’s why there is no body is a self-contained and non-contradictory way to read the possibilities. But then what about the Resurrection? Well, those were stories the failed followers of the guy told themselves in their guilt at deserting him.

OK.

Except who goes to their death for a lie – knowing it’s a lie? And while yes, you may be able to get one or two folks to do that, who gets 12? Who gets 400?

You can’t prove that this thing, this Christ event did not happen. But you can believe it to be a lie, yes.  Are you wiling, personally, to go to your death to say you know it didn’t happen? Can you get 400 folks to join you (who are not equally inspired by their own religious faith)?

A man who believes in nothing will fall for anything. But he won’t die for it.

The Apostolic martyrs paid with their lives the cost of their beliefs. And in so paying, they brought hundreds, thousands in to experience the change of life that only Jesus can give. The first experience of the light of Mt Tabor that comes with baptism and is renewed – every day – at Mass and confession.

Today’s feast gives us a goal for all this. This image of Jesus, the Son of God, glorified in his flesh, this is what God has in store for all of us. It’s not enough for God to become a human baby, urinating on himself, or defecating on the ground and wiping his bottom with his hand. Nope, that’s not enough of a scandal. God has opened the gates of intimate union with his divinity to all of us. This glorified God-Man we see before the Apostles today is a sign of our own theosis, our divinization. As we are he has become so that as he now is, we can become by his grace in the future.  

This participation in God – as God participates in our humanity – is a thing unimagined and yet making so much sense: that we would be able to return, in Christ, to a place not only before the fall, but to our intended place in spite of the fall. This makes the whole of history into a unified story arc with Christ as the creator, corrector, and culmination.

The Transfiguration is not only a sign of Christ’s coming triumph in the Gospel texts, it is a sign of our coming triumph in the world to come.

Each martyr from St Stephen down to those slain on a beach by ISIS have paid with their lives not for their taste of this life, but to prove that they had done so. Their death pays for others to taste it, for us to taste it as well.

A blessed feast!
___


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